Mercifully, I was given a sense of calm from one word spoken by this ghost before me.
He just stood there quietly as he watched my chest sucking and heaving volumes of air my lungs never handled before. As I switched from panic to “there’s an explanation” mode, I suddenly realized that I knew this ‘guy’, but he probably didn’t know me.
“Slick?” I said.
“That’s me, and how does your sorry old ass know who I am? How can you see and hear me? I was just going to play with you. I didn’t expect you to answer back.”
Realizing I startled him as much as he did me helped my spasms to relax their grip even further. Even though I didn’t have half a clue what was going on, I was now relaxed, and had to chuckle. The ghost right in front of me was Slick Sampson, just as he appeared in his playing days forty years ago, on this very court, right down to the short shorts that were then fashionable. The rest of his uniform was vintage 1971, including the high socks and high-top sneakers. He still had the same moustache and medium afro. He had that kind of kinky hair, even though he was White. He was maybe six feet tall in sneakers, but he played taller, able to grab the rim with both hands. Slick was a given nick name, for his style of play. He was lightening quick, slipping effortlessly through screens and picks on defense, and had a jump shot that only knew the inside of the net. Opposing players were afraid of him most when he got behind them, fearing a ball poke from their blind side. He was silicone in motion, known for his brashness and arrogance, which he backed up, of course. He was funny back then, and the way he queried me now made me laugh like old times.
“I said, how do you know who I am, and why are you laughing at me?”
“Slick,” I said, “I went to school here. Everybody who went here that knows basketball, knows you, especially the way you’re standing before me, as you were in 1971. I’ll go you one better. I know how your sorry old ass, as you put it to me, looks today. In fact, I just saw you a few weeks ago, in 2011.
You’re bald as a baby’s ass, but you can still shoot the ball.”
“I know. I know all that. My first step’s in the crapper, though.
Otherwise, I could still be playin.” Slick said, always the comedian.
“Slick,” I said. “You got to help me out here. What the hell is going on?”
“I really don’t know. Me and my teammates play here all the time.
People have been walking around here through the years, right up to the present day, and we don’t care.
We just play right through’em. We all still love to play, but why over and over? It’s like we were sent here for a reason. What really gave me the heeby jeebs a few years ago was we were playing a game while a 2008 summer league game was being played at the same time. That didn’t bother me. It was when I looked up in the stands and I see me in 2008 watching the game. It looked like me watching me! I knew I couldn’t see me, but it still made me miss my next couple of shots.”
I said, incredulously, ”Okay, Slick, back up. You said there are more of you. Your teammates. From 1971.
How is this possible?”
“It seems not much gets wasted in the Universe. Once events pass in time, they’re still out there, floating around like radio waves. They’re like files everywhere. 1971 is next to 1972. There’s still plenty of room for everything that’s ever happened. It’s a big, big place, you know, and it’s expanding.” He paused, and his dead pan delivery broke into a smile.
“I’m just playin’ with you, man. I really don’t know. Ask me something about basketball. All I know is we keep playing here, as in 1971. Like I said, it’s still fun at times, but I want to know why.”
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